Gifted and Talented education

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Australian International School Malaysia's current Director of Curriculum and Innovation and candidate for a PhD, Kylie Booker is a highly regarded specialist educator in the rapidly evolving field of gifted children. She was brought to AISM to start one of the few programmes of its kind in Malaysia at the school.

Kylie has been involved in education for over 20 years and currently holds a Master of Gifted Education. Her doctorate will be in Leadership and Management from prestigious Flinders University, Where she has also lectured to post and Undergraduate teachers. She was selected to be the Australian delegate for the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children and is the dual founder of SAGES (south Australian Gifted Education Specialists) based at Flinders.

This type of abstract thinking and comprehension at a very early age is what truly differentiates a gifted child from a child who is an early learner because of being taught by parents or enrolled in an explicit early childhood coaching program. Likewise with a child who consistently achieves very high grades but does so because of hard work, self discipline and study not inherent giftedness.

So how do parents distinguish between a genuinely gifted child and one who pays attention when being taught and is self disciplined? Achieving high grades does not mean your child is gifted and indeed many gifted children get low grades and are at risk of either failing or pulling out of school. You might be surprised to learn that the most at risk group of students are the gifted ones due to many social and emotional issues inherent to giftedness. Therefore it is imperative to identify them as early as possible.

Kylie explains that when observing to identify potentially gifted children, experts look for the following-unrelenting curiosity about everything around them, advanced verbal abilities, intense interest in a wide variety of areas, imagination and humour, higher order thinking skills and exceptional memory. These traits are usually observable at a very early age but of course every child is unique and may not exhibit all or any of these characteristics at any given time.

There is a 'spectrum of learners' and at AISM gifted children are mainstreamed althought spend a good deal of time grouped together. Having like-minded children together broadens their knowledge base and the level of enquiry can go much deeper for them truly exploring their deep potential.

At AISM all students are taught thinking skills and the benefits of thinking skills programmes and approaches derive from making thinking and emphasis on classroom talk and interactions. There is also a strong outdoor education camp program that supports the development of emotional intelligence and link strongly with the ethos of the school.

Giftedness is often defined with an IQ of 130 depending on the model in reference. Students measuring between 135-145 IQ are considered highly gifted and are at the 98 percentile. At 145-160 they are identified as profoundly gifted and students above 160 whilst quite rare do exist in our schools and most definitely would require individual education provisions. It must be emphasized that whilst a high IQ is an indicator of intelligence, giftedness and talent are fluid concepts and may present differently in certain contexts and cultues.

Kylie has worked with all levels telling me that it is extremly rare to come across a profoundly gifted child although she has worked with two in the past.

One of the reasons that gifted children are at risk in the school system is that they are usually perfectionists. It is this being a perfectionist that can result in them not wanting to take risks as they fear not being perfect. This is extremely stressful for these students. Teachers at AISM are taught in depth how to differentiate between all the different levels of a competent student and the varying degrees of their gifted students. They must also feel intellectually stimulated enough to be motivated to be good students as boredom is a constant challenge for them in regular classrooms. Kylie is an adherent of the Gagne Model of Giftedness and her dissertation is based on his theories. Gagne's model of natural abilities of giftedness may be transformed via a number of catalysts into well-trained and systematically developed skills (talents).

Factors such as an intervening developmental process of maturation, daily use in problem solving situations, informal training and practice or formal training in a particular field of activity, combine to create an engaging environment which allows and encourages the gifted child to develop their abilities into outstanding achievement when compared to that of their peers.

Gagne's model also acknowledges the important influence of the environment and other factors on the development of natural abilities into performance areas. In acknowledging this AISM is currently involved in a new project to transform the learning spaces into dynamic, fluid environments that embrace modern learning technologies that facilitate collaboration and inquiry based learning. June 8th and 9th Kylie was an invited speaker along with David Kilpatrick AISM Principal to the Malaysian/Australian Education Forum where she expounded on the various programmes that form the backbone to a successful gifted program which she is in the process of developing further at AISM.

Expat Magazine - 2011